Sotheby’s in London are to hold an auction – appropriately enough on the 16th December this year, the anniversary of Jane Austen’s birth – and among the lots on offer are two items with strong associations to her.
The first is the first edition copy of Emma in 3 volumes, that was presented to Maria Edgeworth in Ireland by Jane Austen through the offices of her publisher, John Murray. Maria Edgeworth was of course a friend of Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle Mr and Mrs James Leigh Perrots, as I have perviously detailed here, and sadly she seems not to have valued her copy of Emma very much if at all, and also seems not to have initially understood that it was the Perrot’s niece who as the author. Her statement
‘The authoress of Pride and Prejudice has been so good as to send me a new novel just published, Emma’
was followed by this assessment of the novel in a letter to her half brother:
‘There was no story to it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet’s lover was an admirer of her own – & he was affronted at being refused by Emma… and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma’s father’s opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth thin water gruel”
The sale estimate is £70-£100,000. I doubt it will find its way into my Christmas stocking this year, but a girl can live in hopes…
The second lot which is of interest to us is the set of Wedgwood china that was ordered by Edward Knight and his daughter Fanny, in the presence of Jane Austen,as a spot of retail therapy after a traumatic trip to the dentist, as she noted in her letter to Cassandra Austen of the 16th September 1813:
We then went to Wedgwoods where my brother and Fanny chose a Dinner Set, I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold; – and it is to have the Crest.
I have written about Wedgwood and the Austen’s here ,and below is a view of Wedgwood’s showrooms which were then situated just off St James Square in London: